Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Cover image for Blood Like Magic.

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury (9781534465282)

Voya’s time to get her Calling has finally arrived. While she isn’t excited about the trial that she must undergo, she is thrilled that she will get her witch’s power. Voya hopes that her power will set the course for the rest of her life, likely keeping her close at home with her multigenerational family who live in a house that was magically moved to Canada. When Voya’s hesitation causes her to have to ask her ancestor for another chance, she is given an impossible task: to destroy her first love. If Voya doesn’t succeed, every witch in her family will lose their magic. It also means that Voya’s young sister will die since magic keeps her alive. As Voya tries to get her cousin a great internship, she also meets a boy who is the perfect genetic match for her. The trouble is, they don’t like each other at all and he has no interest in even meeting her again. As Voya struggles to solve the mystery of her Calling, she learns more about her family’s pure magic, the cost of darker magical power, and what duty to her family means.

This book is full of Black magic that is at once both powerful but also marvelously mundane. Sambury brings us into a family of witches who are coming to the end of their power and tied to being pure, meaning that they won’t kill or torture other people to gain power. The family dynamics are beautifully drawn, from divorced parents who are forced to live together under the same roof to a grandmother who controls them all to a group of cousins who are very different from one another but also watch out and help one another constantly. The dialog is well written, full of small touches that bring each character to life.

Voya is an unusual protagonist. First, she has not only her parents but a huge extended family around her all the time. Second, she has trouble making choices that impact her life to the point of grinding to a halt regularly. When given tasks that force her to make decisions, she falters but doesn’t give up. She finds other ways, other paths and asks for help. This is the opposite of a solo protagonist, as she is surrounded by people who love her even if they don’t trust that she will succeed.

Magical, powerful and unique, this novel is fantastic. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.

7 July YA Novels to Wake Your Brain Cells

Here are a collection of diverse realistic and fantasy novels to fill up your summer reading. All are being released in July! Enjoy!

In the Same Boat by Holly Green

Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Walls by L.M. Elliott

When We Were Strangers by Alex Richards

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Cover image for This Poison Heart.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron (9781547603909)

Briseis has a magical gift that she works hard not to reveal. Plants respond to her touch and presence, growing more lush and leaning in towards her, sometimes with destructive force. When Briseis inherits an estate in rural New York, she and her mothers jump at the new opportunity. The home is dirty and needs attention, and it also holds a lot of secrets for Briseis to figure out. There is the apothecary shop that seemed to deal in more normal herbs, but also ones that are extremely poisonous and rare. Then there is a trail of clues that lead Briseis to a neglected garden on the property that has regular herbal plants but also hidden poison gardens that only Briseis can reach thanks to her newly discovered immunity to poisonous plants. As strangers arrive on the property to seek services from Briseis, she finds herself part of another mystery. What is behind the locked door in the garden, and could it have been why so many women in her family have died or disappeared?

There is just so much to love with this novel. It’s a mesmerizingly lovely look at contemporary Black life that is imbued with magic and mystery. Briseis’ talent with plants moves from being problematic to being celebrated, something that really shines at the center of the book as she gains confidence in her own powers. Against the green wonder of her magic is the danger of poison that darkens the entire story very effectively, and is steadily revealed as more characters appear in the story.

Bayron paces the mystery out very cleverly, allowing readers to both enjoy and doubt several characters who are close to Briseis. The inclusion of queer characters is done naturally and woven into the story. Briseis has lesbian mothers and is queer herself. Briseis herself is a great protagonist, richly drawn in both her self doubt, her initial friendlessness, and how that transforms into a dangerous dance of trust and betrayal.

Beautifully written, full of strong Black women and filled with magic, this teen novel is spellbinding. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon (9781524718961)

Evie has always been a romantic, hooked on reading spicy romance novels. So when her parents divorce, she is left reeling even though her mother and sister seem to handling it in stride. When Evie donates her stack of romance novels, she meets a woman who gives her the power to witness a couple kissing and then see the beginning, middle and end of their relationship. All of them go to prove to Evie that relationships end with a broken heart. Evie is also directed to a small dance studio where she finds herself asked to join a competition for ballroom dancing. She is paired with X, a young man who has the policy of saying yes to everything in life and taking risks, the exact opposite of Evie. As the two of them dance together and get to know one another, romance sparks between them, but Evie may not be ready to risk heart break thanks to her visions and her parents.

Yoon fills this book with Black joy and with swoony characters straight out of Evie’s romances. At the same time, her characters are deliciously human and struggling with weighty issues that impact them on a variety of levels. It is this grounding of her characters that makes this romance so much more than fluff, instead speaking directly to the risk of falling in love, the depths of loss, and how to continue after being hurt by life.

Yoon also fills her book with marvelous dancing and the gorgeous setting of Los Angeles with all of its diversity, talent and magic. Her writing soars with dialogue between characters, sounding wonderfully human and real. Her touches of magic in everyday life add to the fun.

A winner of a teen romance just right for those looking to be swept off their feet. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Delacorte Press.

One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

One Great Lie by Deb Caletti (9781534463172)

When Charlotte wins a scholarship to an elite writing workshop given by her favorite author, Luca Bruni, she is thrilled. The workshop takes her to Venice, Italy and a summer spent on a private island with a small group of other college students and Bruni himself. The trip also gives Charlotte a chance to investigate a family legend that one of her female ancestors actually wrote a very famous poem. As Charlotte explore her heritage, looking for clues to a woman who has disappeared into history, she meets Dante, a college student working at the library who works to save flood-ravaged pages. As Charlotte falls for both Venice and Dante, the attentions of Bruni begin to become more problematic. After one girl leaves the program and another has clearly been hurt, Charlotte gains his unwanted attentions and finds herself alone with him. Charlotte must now face her own powerful mentor and decide whether to keep his secrets or not, just as her ancestor and so many women have done before her.

Award-winning author Caletti has created a book that shows exactly why we see music, poetry, painting and more as male dominated throughout history. She highlights real female poets and artists from the 1400s-1600s at the beginning of each chapter, showing how they were quickly either muted, disparaged or killed. She uses these women and the warning signs of Bruni’s behavior throughout the book to foreshadow what is about to happen to Charlotte. It’s terrible to wait for the predator to turn his attentions to her and then strike.

The darkness throughout the book is broken by the accomplishments of some of the historical female figures and also with Charlotte finding her own voice and demanding change. Nothing though is done without cost and loss, there is nothing simple in this novel, no easy way out. The writing is exquisite, dark and rich, with room for a good man like Dante to emerge as a worthy partner for Charlotte.

Feminist, ferocious and full of fight. Appropriate for ages 16-19.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Cover image for Tokyo Ever After.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (9781250766601)

Izumi has never felt that she was either Japanese enough or American enough. She is caught in between. It doesn’t help that her father is an unknown and unnamed person. When one of Izzy’s friends discovers a clue in Izzy’s mother’s room, they soon discover that Izzy is the illegitimate daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan. After Izzy reaches out to him, she is soon whisked off to spend time with him in Japan. But being a princess isn’t what Izumi pictured. Her life is suddenly full of rules to follow, language lessons, etiquette lessons and strict schedules. Even ducking into a bathroom when she lands in Japan creates a schedule crisis and makes the tabloid news. Izumi is surrounded by jealous cousins, a bossy handmaiden, and a hot bodyguard. But finding true love isn’t easy when you are a princess and the world is watching.

It would be easy to dismiss this book as a Japanese remake of the Princess Diaries, but this novel is much more than that. Readers are on a journey to Japan along with Izzy. They will learn about traditions, folk tales, the royal family and more. The settings are beautifully described and Jean brings both Tokyo and Kyoto to full realization with her writing. Izzy’s search for where she belongs is complicated and very personal.

Izzy is a marvelous character. She’s a girl more comfortable in t-shirts, hoodies and leggings than in fitted dresses selected by her handmaiden. Surrounded by a new life, she struggles to figure out where she fits even though she suddenly looks like everyone else around her. As she learns Japanese language and customs, she retains her snarky attitude, much to the dismay of some of her handlers while also learning when to hold her tongue to have the impact she wants.

A fairy tale grounded in Japanese culture and identity with a sequel on the way. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Flatiron Books.

The Power of Style by Christian Allaire

Cover image for The Power of Style.

The Power of Style by Christian Allaire (9781773214900)

This nonfiction book explores the importance of fashion as a way to pay homage to heritage, culture and identity. The book looks at the work of designers who are incorporating their own Indigenous heritage into their work, such as ribbon work. The book moves on to hair styles and the importance of embracing natural hair, keeping long hair as a connection to culture, and the art of braiding. Cosplay comes next focusing on size acceptance within the cosplay community and the people who are forcing more inclusivity. Modest fashion and hijabs and head scarves are explored next with a focus on style and individuality. Then the book moves on to talk about high heels for men and the importance of standing tall for LGBTQIA+ rights. The final section is about makeup, both as a way to express yourself and as a way to see yourself included as modern makeup embraces more skin tones.

Each turn of the page in this book shows people of color, different cultures and religions, various gender and sexual identities, a wide range of sizes, and it embraces all of them as valid and beautiful. Written by an Ojibwe author who is the Fashion and Style Writer for Vogue, this book represents so many movements in the fashion world to be seen and accepted. Allaire’s writing is friendly and fresh, inviting readers to explore the pages, showing what allyship looks like, and giving real space to these new ideas and designs.

The book is full of photographs, making it a visual delight to read. Allaire has clearly carefully selected the photographs to show the fashion and also the figures who make the fashion come alive. They are bright, beautiful and truly speak to the diversity he is highlighting.

A gorgeous and enticing book about fashion that will broaden definitions and embraces inclusion. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Annick Press.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

Cover image for The Mirror Season.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore (9781250624123)

Ciela rescued a boy who had been drugged and assaulted at a party. At the same time the boy was assaulted, so was Ciela. After dropping him at the ER, Ciela thought she’d never see him again, until he turned up at her school that fall. As the people responsible for their assaults begin to bully Lock, Ciela starts a friendship with him without telling him what she knows. After the assault, Ciela’s world started to change. She could no longer look at a person and know what pan dulce will help them. She also saw mirrored glass everywhere, filling in puddles, replacing leaves and branches, draining the color from the world. As Ciela becomes better friends with Lock, her pan dulce powers start to return, something she thought she had lost forever. But there is still that secret between them, that Ciela knows what happened to him because she was there too. With silence all that is protecting her and Lock, how can she start to speak about what happened?

This harrowing and hauntingly gorgeous novel is so powerful. Its depiction of assault and its aftermath is filled with metaphor but also firmly grounded in what trauma does to someone. The writing is fierce and funny, insistent that the reader not look away. It’s a novel that gets into your heart, rather like a piece of mirrored glass, that burrows there and tears at you. Readers will not be surprised to read in the author’s note that McLemore has personally experience sexual assault, since the experience here is so raw and honest.

The two characters at the center of this novel are amazing. Written with truth and grit, they are both remarkable. Ciela is a brown girl who has lived unapologetically. She is queer and pansexual, making her even more of a target. Her experience is spoken about frankly in the book, the experience of a queer Latinx woman and how it is to live in America. Lock would seem to be her opposite in so many ways. A heterosexual white boy, he is just as interesting as she is somehow, even with her pan dulce magic. Lock is a tree-stealing, finger-biting boy who has been torn apart by trauma and is piecing his life back together, one crocheted mushroom at a time.

Unique characters face a shared assault in this book of trauma, friendship and a dash of magic. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Cover image for All Our Hidden Gifts.

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue (9781536213942)

When Maeve finds a deck of tarot cards while clearing out a closet at school during her suspension, she soon realizes that she has a talent for telling people’s fortunes. Maeve isn’t talented in general, not musical or good at school. As she starts to tell everyone’s fortunes secretly at school, she becomes friends with Fiona, perhaps her first real friend after she pushed Lili away. But when she tells Lili’s fortune reluctantly and wishes Lili would disappear, a frightening Housekeeper card appears and soon after, Lili vanishes. Considered a witch by all the students at school, Maeve tries to figure out what happened to Lili and if she is the one who made her leave. Meanwhile, Maeve is growing closer to Lili’s older brother, Roe, who is honest with Lili about being genderqueer. As they try to solve the mystery of Lili’s disappearance, a malevolent force emerges, one who is putting people Maeve loves in direct danger. With growing desperation, Maeve must decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to fix the imbalance she may have created.

Looking for a fantasy book for teens about witches and tarot that is legitimately creepy and not trite in the least? This is the book for you! Free of tropes that plague this sort of teen novel, this Irish read is a dark delight of a novel. Add in the modern issues of women’s rights, racism, hate crimes and the threats against LGBTQ people and this is also a book that looks deeply at our world and insists that Maeve acknowledges her own privilege and bias without scolding.

The three main characters are a marvel. Maeve is the best mixture of lack of self-esteem, witchcraft power and sarcasm. Roe is at first shy and near silent and steadily reveals himself to Maeve and to the reader. The hot kisses are marvelous, particularly as they involve an unapologetic and genderqueer character. Fiona is a talented actress with almost no friends, a huge extended family and a desire to be something more than what society is always assigning to her as a Filipina girl. This is not a cast you see often in teen novels about witchcraft.

Haunting witchcraft with social justice and feminism. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walker Books.